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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God gives gospel promises in the Lord's Supper too
Text:LD 28 Lord's Days 28-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Lord's Supper

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 6

Psalm 63

Psalm 65:1-3

Hymn 1

Hymn 81

Scripture reading: John 6:25-59

Catechism lesson: Lord's Days 28-30

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Over the last couple of Lord’s Days in our Catechism, we’ve been learning about the doctrine of baptism.  Baptism is not about us making a statement to God or to people, but about God signing and sealing his promises to us.  Baptism can be called the sacrament of initiation.  It’s the sacrament by which we’re visibly welcomed into the church.  If baptism is the sacrament of initiation, then the Lord’s Supper can be called the sacrament of nutrition.  It’s the sacrament by which we’re fed and nourished.  Unlike baptism, the Lord’s Supper is a regular phenomenon in our lives.  Each time we celebrate it, Christ is present to strengthen our faith.  He does that by directing our attention again to the promises.

You see, just like baptism, the Lord’s Supper is also about God making gospel promises to us.  It’s easy to fall into a way of thinking that restricts the Lord’s Supper to something we’re doing.  For the vast majority of Christians, the Lord’s Supper is only about us remembering what Jesus did on the cross.  It’s like bringing a wreath to the cenotaph on ANZAC [or Remembrance] Day.  Many just focus on the remembrance aspect of the Lord’s Supper and so give all the attention to human activity.  It’s easy for us to drift in that direction as well.  True, there’s a place for remembrance of Christ’s work at the Lord’s Supper – we think of what Christ himself says, “Eat and drink in remembrance of me.”  Our Lord’s Supper form has a section dedicated to that too.  So there is a place for human activity at this sacrament.  This is a question then of a perspective that includes both the human and the divine.  Since our tendency is to drift towards the human, it would be worthwhile this afternoon to focus on the divine, to give special attention to the promises of our God in the Holy Supper.  That’s what we’ll do this afternoon as we learn about how:

God gives gospel promises in the Lord’s Supper too

We’ll learn:

  1. What those promises are
  2. Who those promises are for
  3. How those promises are to be embraced  

Before Christ instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he’d already used the language of bread and drink in what we can call a sacramental way.  We find that in our reading from John 6.  Our Lord told his disciples they’d have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Jesus spoke this way not because he wanted to suggest or encourage cannibalism, but because he wanted to prepare his disciples for the institution of the sacrament of Lord’s Supper.  As we think about the Lord’s Supper today, we can also look back at the words of our Saviour in this chapter and learn from them. 

At the Lord’s Supper, he feeds us with his body and blood.  We’re nourished by him as we focus on his promises.  What are those promises?  Our Catechism mentions two.  Those two tie into the promises found in John 6 as well.  Look at what Jesus promises in verse 35 of that chapter.  He promises you’ll never go hungry or thirsty.  That has to do with spiritual sustenance – with Jesus we will not lack what we need to live forever. 

In verse 37, our Lord Jesus promises you’ll never be driven away by him.  He’ll never send you away, but will keep you close by him.  This isn’t a limited-time offer.  He says, “Never.  I will never drive you away.”  Everlasting love. 

Then in verses 40 and 44, Christ promises he’ll raise you up at the last day.  You’re going to partake of the resurrection unto glory.  With your own two eyes, you’ll see your Lord Jesus and live with him forever.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?  If you don’t see it, look at what he promises in verses 51, 57, and 58.  He says that if you eat his body and drink his blood, you’ll live.  You’ll live forever.  Through him, you have the promise of everlasting life.  He promises to be for you today and always.    

That’s what he promises in John 6 and that’s what he also promises to us in the Lord’s Supper.  When you see the bread broken, you’re not seeing a hallucination.  That’s real bread – you can and do even touch it and taste it for yourself.  When you see the wine poured and eventually it comes to you, you’re not seeing things.  That’s real wine – you can see it, taste it, and probably even smell it.  It’s all real.  Through those real elements of bread and wine, Christ is promising that his work for you is real.  His body was truly offered for you on the cross.  His blood was truly poured out for you – to accomplish your salvation.  Your real Saviour hung on the cross in your place and gave you life when you deserved death. 

In the sacrament, he also promises that we’re nourished and refreshed to everlasting life.  Because of his work on the cross for us, we’re going to live forever.  United to him by the Holy Spirit, we’re part of his body and we’ll someday be where he is, in his presence, and in the presence of the Father. 

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament pointing us to these precious gospel promises.  It acts as a sign.  It also acts as a seal, assuring us that God will never back down on his promises.  We might often be faithless and we might sometimes be covenant breakers, but he never will be.  He’s always faithful – he’s full of steadfast love/covenant loyalty -- and the Lord’s Supper proclaims that to us with bread and wine.

Loved ones, each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we should be conscientious about what’s happening there.  Next time we celebrate it, we need to again be attentive to what our Saviour is promising us.  In that way, the sacrament will function as it should and we’ll be strengthened. 

That brings us to the next question of who the promises of the Lord’s Supper are for.  We could also ask the question like this:  who are the worthy partakers of the Lord’s Supper?   Unlike with baptism, only professing Christians are permitted to partake of this sacrament.  We only allow those who’ve made public profession of their faith to eat the bread and drink the wine.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11, it’s crucially important that those eating and drinking rightly examine themselves and “recognize the body of the Lord.”  One has to be committed to Christ before one can partake of the Lord’s Supper.  The eternal promises of nutrition signed and sealed in this sacrament are only for those united to Christ.

Our Catechism fleshes that out more in QA 81.  If you’re to come to the table of the Lord, you have to have a right view of yourself and your sins.  You have to understand that you’re a sinner and you have to hate your sin and want to fight against it.  You can’t be the kind of person who says “Whatever” about sin in your life.  A worthy partaker of the Lord’s Supper isn’t someone worthy in themselves.  In themselves, these partakers know how they’re great sinners.  But they also know they have a great Saviour in Jesus Christ.  They trust that all their sins are washed away because of him -- they have forgiveness through the cross.  But then they also want their faith to grow stronger.  We want to grow in our faith because we recognize that it’s when we get distracted from Christ that we fall into sin.  We want to be more consistent in fixing our eyes on him so our lives can be amended or fixed, transformed. 

The promises signed and sealed in this sacrament are definitely not for hypocrites or those who refuse to repent.  Hypocrites are those who wear a mask of religion or self-righteousness.  They pretend to be Christians.  They pretend to be holy and upright when the reality is something different.  They live in sin and never turn from it.  And they just don’t care.  Now it does happen that such people partake of the Lord’s Supper.  It happened in Corinth (and you can read about that in 1 Cor. 11). It could happen here too.  And when it does those who do it aren’t given blessings, but curses.  God’s covenant judgment hangs over those who eat and drink the Lord’s Supper while unrepentantly living in sin.  This is why the elders guard the Lord’s Supper table as well.  They’re shepherds of God’s flock.  Since they’re shepherds, they have a responsibility to protect the holiness of the table and the welfare of the sheep.  If God’s covenant is profaned at the Lord’s Supper, then his wrath is kindled not just against that individual, but against the whole congregation.  The elders therefore have to oversee and guard the holiness of the sacrament. 

The elders also have to ensure that the unity portrayed in this sacrament is real and meaningful.  Our doctrinal unity is expressed in our Reformed confessions – that’s why they’re called the Three Forms of Unity.  So profession of the Reformed faith as found in those confessions is necessary for admission to this sacrament which is meant to picture our unity and fellowship in Christ.     

Our confession asks, “Who are to come to the table of the Lord?”  Today there are those who claim to be Reformed who answer that question differently than our Catechism does.  They hold to a position known as paedocommunion.  Literally that means “child communion.”  They say that just as the sacrament of baptism is for believers and their children, so also the Lord’s Supper is also for believers and their children.  With some, there’s simply a lowering of the age that children are admitted to the Lord’s Supper.  Children make profession of their faith at a younger age than what we might be accustomed to in our churches – maybe at 12 or 13 instead of at the typical 18 or 19.  That’s not our concern here.  You can’t set an age at which people can do profession of faith – that goes beyond what the Bible teaches.  So we’re not concerned about that, unless maybe it involves three year olds.  What we’re concerned about is the idea that a baby can partake of the Lord’s Supper, a baby that can’t even talk.  In paedocommunion churches, they will often dip a piece of bread in the wine and then place it in the baby’s mouth.  That’s called intinction.  They do intinction, bread and wine together because otherwise a baby can’t take it.

This afternoon we don’t have the time to go into all the arguments for the paedocommunion position and refute them one by one.  For those interested in pursuing that, there’s a helpful book by Cornelis Venema entitled Children at the Lord’s Table?   Really the key for us is going to be what you do with 1 Corinthians 11.  I’m thinking especially of 1 Corinthians 11:28, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”  Paul insists that a person has to engage in self-examination before partaking of the sacrament.  You have to be able to recognize the body of the Lord.  Babies and toddlers simply aren’t capable of doing this.  Because the biblical teaching on this is clear, so also are the Reformed confessions.  Paedocommunion isn’t an option for Reformed churches which confess the Three Forms of Unity.

So where does that leave our children when we have the celebration of the Lord’s Supper?  One might say it’s easy to dismiss the paedocommunion position, but then what is the place of our children with regard to this sacrament?  Well, here let me speak directly to the young brothers and sisters, to you boys and girls of our church.  All of you were baptized.  God said when you were baptized that you belong to him.  All of you.  He wants you to be eating the bread and drinking the wine too.  But before that can happen, you still have much to learn about who your God is and what he’s done for us in Jesus.  You can learn whenever we have the Lord’s Supper too.  The next time we have the Lord’s Supper, watch.  Watch as the bread comes and your mom and dad take it and eat it.  That bread tells us that Jesus’ body hung on the cross for us.  Watch as the wine comes and your mom and dad take it and drink it.  That wine promises us that Jesus’ blood was poured out so that our sins can be taken away.  When you were baptized, God said that you are his.  All the adults eating and drinking have said “yes” to that.  They’ve believed what God said and they are all forgiven sinners who find their hope in Jesus.  Maybe your mom or dad did something wrong.  At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus promises them that God forgives them.  And he wants you to be there too.  All of you boys and girls have to look forward to the day when you can stand at the front of the church and say “yes” to God’s promises so that you can eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper too.   

Now as we come to the last question we want to look at this afternoon, the answer is undoubtedly obvious, or at least it should be.  How do you embrace the promises signed and sealed in the Holy Supper?  Through faith.  By hearing what Christ is saying to you in this sacrament and simply saying, “Amen, it is true and certain.  I believe you Lord.  I believe that what you’re saying here is true.” 

Brothers and sisters, let’s think ahead here to our next celebration of the sacrament.  We’ll hear the beautiful words of the Form again.  This is what it says under the heading of “Assurance”:

[Our Lord Jesus] taught us to understand that as often as we eat this bread and drink from this cup, we are reminded and assured of his hearty love and faithfulness towards us.  It is a sure pledge that he has given his body and shed his blood for us; otherwise we would have suffered eternal death.  He nourishes and refreshes our hungry and thirsty souls to everlasting life as certainly as this bread is broken before our eyes and this cup is given to us and we eat and drink in remembrance of him.

You’re going to hear those words read again.  Pay careful attention to them.  Reflect on them as you have the opportunity.  Perhaps open your Book of Praise to page 605 and concentrate on that section of “Assurance.”  And add your personal response of faith to that as well.  Embrace the promises your Saviour makes to you.  By doing that, the Lord’s Supper will function as it should and your faith will be strengthened by Christ himself.  When you eat the bread and drink the wine, through faith you will be spiritually fed with the true body and blood of Christ. 

Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper is a visible preaching of the gospel.  We have the preaching of the gospel with words week in and week out, but every three months our gracious Saviour also gives us visible and even tangible signs and seals.  As we confess in the Belgic Confession, he’s aware of our weakness and our need for such things.  We have a Saviour who is a sympathetic High Priest, full of grace and mercy for pilgrims who often stumble.  With the Lord’s Supper, he pulls us up again and helps us on our way.  How thankful we can be for such a Redeemer!  AMEN. 


O faithful God and Saviour,

We thank you for this precious sacrament of Holy Supper and for the promises that are signed and sealed in it.  We’re glad that you promise to feed us and nourish us to eternal life.  We praise you that we have forgiveness and reconciliation in the broken body and shed blood of Christ.  Please continue working in us with your Spirit so that we come to the Supper in faith and that we grow in our faith through your gracious ministry to us.  Lord, we also pray again for all our children.  You have given them the beautiful covenant promises too.  We pray that they would each embrace those promises through public profession of faith.  Work in them with your Holy Spirit.  Father, please give us the joy of seeing each covenant child at the front of the church again saying their “Amen” to what you have said about them.  Please give us strength then too to raise our children well.  Help us to instruct them in your ways and in the gospel you have revealed.  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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